23 August 2017

Vet appointment, 8:45 a.m. today

We will take Natasha over the to veterinary clinic (la clinique vétérinaire) in Noyers-sur-Cher at about 8:30 this morning. It's for her spaying — sa stérilisation. We gave her a bath yesterday. First, I called the clinic and asked whether it would be a good idea to bathe the dog (lui donner un bain), or whether bathing her at the clinic would be part of the preparation for surgery. The answer was: if you think she needs a bath, do it today, because you won't be able to bathe her while she has stitches.

So we did it. (I think Walt got a picture or two, but I didn't. The one above is from a week or more ago.) Natasha liked the bath! I filled a plastic tub with warm water, mixed dog shampoo into the water, picked up the dog, and gently set her down in the mixture. She was calm and collected the whole time. I didn't try to wash her head. All this happened in the utility room shower, so it was easy to rinse her off when the bath was done.

I took these photos off the clinique vétérinaire's web site.

The temperature outside was close to 90ºF (30+ ºC), so all we had to do was take Natasha outside and let her run around for a while to dry off. Then Walt took her out for the late-afternoon walk. To tell you the truth, she smells better now.

The two vets who are partners in the clinic are Dr. Jean-Yves Nourdin and Dr. Caroline Guéguen, in the background.

The veterinarian (le vétérinaire or véto) who is scheduled to perform the surgery is a neighbor of ours, though we really only know him from taking our dogs and cat to see him and his colleagues for the past 14 years. By the way, he's a fairly young man whose sister happens to live in Sebastopol, California. Or did he say Petaluma? Either way, she's near San Francisco, and he visited her there last year.

22 August 2017

The lost collar — a mystery

One morning last week, Natasha the sheltie pup and I set off for our morning walk at around 7. My plan was to walk out to the end of the unpaved road through the vineyard, which is about a mile, and then just walk back.

About halfway out, I saw a man walking toward us. I've seen him many times before over the last few months. Often he and a woman walk together, but recently he's been alone. Usually he walks later in the morning, so this was the first time I've actually stopped and talked to him. Most often, I've seen him walk by on the paved road when I'm out doing things in the yard and garden, and I've always shouted bonjour when I've seen him (or them).

Natasha yesterday in photo I took with my Android tablet

This time, Natasha went crazy. She was scared, and she started barking wildly. She's not used to seeing people out in the vineyard on our walks. She started to turn tail and run back toward the house. I had already passed the walking man, who was standing there laughing his head off. "The dog's name is Natasha and she's not yet 6 months old," I told him. Elle est jolie, he replied, still laughing.

All I could do was call and call Tasha to try to get her to run past the man standing between us and continue the walk, but she was too afraid. Finally I squatted down and made noises that I know Tasha will respond to. It worked. I'd tell you what noise I make but there's no name for it. It's comparable to a ululation, but not exactly the same thing. Tasha scurried past the stranger and ran to me. I called out bonne journée to the walking man Natasha and I continued on our way.

A couple of days later, on Saturday morning, Walt was out with Natasha and she disappeared from his view for between 10 and 15 minutes. He said he was starting to panic after whistling and calling the dog for all that time, and then she suddenly reappeared. He had no idea where she had been for so long, but she wasn't hurt or acting strange in any way. They came on back home. He said it was weird because he hadn't heard Tasha bark or make any other noise for the whole time she was out of view.

Later Saturday I took Tasha out for the evening walk, and I kept a close eye on her, calling her back to me every time she started to wander. Normally, she isn't out of my sight for more than a minute or two at any time, and that's how it was late Saturday afternoon. We finished our walk without incident and returned home.

Recent produce from the vegetable garden (another tablet photo)

A few hours later I reached out to touch Tashas back and neck and realize'd that her collar wasn't on her. It was gone. Walt and I looked around the house to see if maybe Bertie had pulled off the dog's collar while the two of them were rolling around on the floor playing. No luck. Walt went out and looked around the back yard and even outside the back gate around the pond to see if he could find the leash. Again, no luck. It was starting to get dark outside.

I immediately put two and two together and said Tasha must have snagged her collar on something out in the vineyard in the morning and finally figured out how to wriggle out of it. That could explain her 15-minute disappearance. One reason to doubt that was that neither of us had noticed for 12 hours that the collar was missing. Could she have lost it on the evening walk with me? I didn't think so, because as I said I was keeping her close to me all the time out of fear that she might again disappear the way she had in the morning.

On Sunday morning both Walt and I went out walking with Natasha. We scoured the landscape, retracing our steps along the paths we had walked the day before. Walt and I split up and he told me afterwards that he had gone into the woods and ravines around the vineyard where he's seen deer recently, thinking that maybe Natasha had chased a deer the previous morning and got her collar caught on a tree branch or something else.

We didn't find the collar. Walt looked for it again Sunday afternoon and yesterday (Monday) morning on his walks. No sign of it. And then, sometime around 8:30, I heard the front gate bell ring. I was downstairs and went out to see who it might be. Tasha barked wildly.

It was the walking man we had seen out on the road last week. He said bonjour and held out the collar, tag attached, for me to see. Where in the world did you find that?, I asked him. He said he had spotted it just lying on the gravel out on the road. His first thought, he said, was that Natasha might have run away, and he was happy to see that she hadn't.

The plastic clip that is the collar's closure was broken. Maybe it had been run over by a car, since the collar was found lying on the road. Walt examined it and saw that the key ring that attaches the dog's tag to the collar was bent and deformed, and even the little tab on the tag with the hole for the ring was slightly bent. Again, maybe a car ran over it. If Natasha had caught the collar on a branch or a stake out there, it would have been left hanging on something. Instead, it was like it just fell off her as she was running or walking along the road.

Mysterious doings in the Renaudière vineyard outside Saint-Aignan

By the way, the collar's plastic clip might have simply broken all by itself. The collar in question is one that we think we bought in California in 1992 for the first dog we had, Collette. She was about six months old when we rescued from the animal shelter in Santa Clara, and we put a small collar on her. She outgrew it, but we saved it. Then we put that same collar on Callie when we brought her home in 2007. Callie outgrew it too, but we saved it. Then last April we put that same collar on Natasha when we brought her home. The plastic was probably brittle at 25 years of age.

So the collar event remains a mystery. We'll probably never know what happened. Just as we will never know what happened to Callie — why we found her suddenly and inexplicably paralyzed one Saturday afternoon in June and had to have her euthanized two days later. Dogs don't readily reveal their secrets...

21 August 2017

Zucchini.... what else?

We grew them — there are still a lot of them coming — so we need to eat them. Zucchini. Courgettes. I was out in the back yard with the dog and a flashlight about an hour ago, shining the light on the vegetable garden, and I saw half a dozen little zukes poking out from under the plants' big leaves. I think I might go pick those while they're still small.

The other day I looked around the kitchen and I found some green lentils (French lentilles vertes). What if I cooked those with some riz rond (short grain rice) and aromatics to make a stuffing for squash or tomatoes? Then I remembered that I had a bag of frozen spinach (épinards en branches) in the freezer.

I put the lentils on to cook (they take less than half an hour) and some rice in a bowl to soak in cold water — about a cup and a half of each. Then I drained the rice and added it to the lentils about 15 minutes before they were scheduled to be done. I cooked the spinach separately in the microwave, chopped it up, and added it to the rice and lentils when their cooking liquid had all been absorbed.

I cooked the lentils and rice in turkey broth because I had simmered a turkey leg and thigh piece with the idea of pulling the meat off the bones, chopping it, and putting it in the stuffing. Lentils, rice, spinach, turkey — with aromatics like onions, garlic, herbs, and spices, at your discretion. One lemon squash sneaked in...

As you can see, I cut a large zuke into big round pieces. What you can't see is that I blanched the pieces in the steamer pot for 7 or 8 minutes — 4 or 5 pieces at a time. They were just starting to get tender when I took them out and hollowed them out. Don't worry about them not having bottoms. Fill them with the stuffing mixture and cook them in the oven for a while.

If you cook the stuffed squash on a pan lined with kitchen paper or a silicon baking pad, you can easily lift them with a spatula and serve them on plates without having them fall apart. Sprinkle a little grated cheese on top, along with a drizzle of olive oil. They would be good with a tomato sauce, which is how, later, we'll eat the ones that went into the freezer.

20 August 2017

Collar capers

I suddenly realized last night that Tasha didn't have her collar on. It's lost, and that includes the nice tag that Walt ordered and had engraved with Tasha's name and our phone number.

So I have to go looking for it this morning. We assume she lost tag and collar on one of her walks yesterday, so I'll re-walk those routes. Maybe I'll find it. Gives me a purpose for the day. Bon dimanche.

19 August 2017

Heading out at sunrise

If you look closely, or enlarge, the photo below, you can see Walt and Natasha headed out on their morning walk, at sunrise. It was a funny kind of sunrise, because somehow the golden light was shining on the trees out toward the west, but closer to the house the landscape was in shade.

I had a kind of bittersweet experience this week. I ran into an old friend at the supermarket. G is a woman we met 14 years ago, during our first weeks in Saint-Aignan. She now 87 years old. She's had a lot of health problems over the past dozen years. Age has finally caught up with her. We had lost touch with her two or three years ago. She got to be so deaf that it was impossible to talk to her on the phone, and I didn't even know if she was still living in her house or in some kind of maison de retraite. She has lost a lot of her teeth because of gum disease, I learned, and she can no longer drive. That's why she never stops by any more.

However, it was G who saw me first and recognized me in the supermarket. She was with a woman I didn't recognize, but I did recognize G as soon as I looked into her eyes. She looks so different that if she hadn't seen me and spoken I might not have noticed her. The woman with her was her aide à domicile, whose job is to take care of people who need domestic help and health care. We talked for a while, reminiscing — and blocking the aisle in the supermarket. Tant pis for the other shoppers. The woman with G was obviously pleased to see her enjoy meeting up with an old friend and sharing news and memories. She said she takes G grocery shopping on Monday and Thursdays, and sees nearly her every day. I imagine the French social security system pays her for her work.

G in 2005
G is an authentic local character. Her father, a chauffeur, and mother, a governess, were employed by local château owners, so G spent several years living in, for example, the Château de Montpoupon when she was a girl. One of her friends is the woman who owns and lives in the Château de Saint-Aignan.

G used to be an avid gardener, and she kept sheep when we first lived here. We bought lamb from her when she had them slaughtered in the fall. She gave me many plants and seeds over the years. She hosted dinner parties and at least one memorable cookout for 50 or more people at her house back when, and she often invited us. She gave us gardening advice. She was always very interested in the collard greens I grow, and liked them when I cooked them. She asked me about the collards the other day. She wanted to know if I still grow them. It's funny what people remember and are interested in.

I told G about Callie's death, and she was genuinely shocked and saddened, I could tell. She used to have a dog named Reinette ("Queenie"), a golden retriever who had a litter of puppies a dozen years ago. They were adorable, and G gave them all away to friends and neighbors. Then Reinette passed away a few years ago, and the vet gave G got a new dog named Rumba (pronounced room-bah in French). G's face brightened when I asked about the dog, a black labrador, and she said yes, she still is doing fine. I also told G about Natasha and said I would stop by her house soon and introduce them to each other.

Talking to G again was a good experience, but as I drove home from the supermarket a great sadness came over me. Then, back at the house, we saw one of our neighbors (in her 80s now) walk out into the vineyard alone. We'd never seen her do that before, so it was mysterious. She stood and looked off into the distance for a few minutes, and then turned around to walk back to her house. I went out and asked her if everything was okay.

She said her husband had gone out for a walk with their dog, and was overdue back home. Like G, he is 87 years old. She was afraid the dog might have gotten its leash wrapped around her husband's legs and caused him to fall. She said she had asked him not to walk out into the vineyard but to stay on the paved road, close to their house. She's obviously very worried about him. They've been good friends of G's for 40 years. We met her through them, in fact.

I got into the car and drove out into the vineyard to see if I could find the missing neighbor and dog. I parked and walked around where I thought the neighbor said he liked to walk. I didn't find him and had to give up the search. When I got home, Walt said the neighbor had come back over to say she had located her husband. He had been out puttering around in a garage/workshop on their property the whole time. "I've told him so many times that he needs to let me know every half-hour or so where he is and how he's doing," she said, "but he won't listen." Anyway, tout est bien qui finit bien, as we say — at least for the time being.

Did I mention that another neighbor, not quite as old, has to have triple-bypass heart surgery soon? Sigh. Old age is not for sissies.